How Young is Too Young to Leave a Child at Home?

Child abandonment is a serious crime in the State of Texas, and no parent wants to face these charges and the potential penalties. Child abandonment is defined as leaving a child under the age of 15 alone in a situation that does not provide them with reasonable and necessary care. If another reasonable and similarly situated adult would not leave a child alone under the circumstances, you could face child abandonment charges if you do so.

So, this leads to the common question by parents: how young is too young to leave a child at home? When can you be sure you will not be accused of a crime when you leave your child alone in your house? The truth is that only state laws in Maryland, Illinois, and Oregon set a specific age threshold. Texas law has no specific age that indicates it is okay to leave your child, so how do you make the call?

Guidelines Offered by DFPS

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) offers information regarding this question to parents in the Austin area. DFPS emphasizes that children need adequate supervision and advises parents to ask the following questions:

  • How old, capable, and emotionally mature is your child?
  • Is your home set up in a safe manner to prevent accidents?
  • Are there other risks or hazards in your home or neighborhood?
  • Does your child know how to respond to emergencies, including fire, illness, or adverse weather?
  • Does your child need regular medication or medical care?
  • Does your child have a physical or mental disability or other special needs?
  • Is there more than one child who will be unsupervised?
  • Will your child know where you are at all times?
  • Does your child know how to reach you or another trusted adult?
  • How long will you be gone?
  • How often do you leave the child alone?

Each child - and each situation - is different, and parents must make a judgment call. For example, a 13-year-old might have special needs that prevent them from properly keeping themselves safe or reaching you if they need help. On the other hand, a ten-year-old might be particularly mature and capable and may have taken a babysitting course that taught them how to be responsible at home alone.

Even the states with laws regarding minimum age cannot agree on a single number - Maryland sets it at eight, Oregon at ten, and Illinois at 14. In Texas, it is the parent’s decision, but you should always err on the side of caution to prevent criminal allegations.

Contact Our Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers for the Help You Need

At the criminal defense firm of Granger and Mueller PC, we stand up for the rights of people accused of crimes in the Austin area, including parents facing child-related offenses. We know these charges can be difficult, so please call 512-474-9999 or contact us online to get started on your defense today. Consultations are free and confidential.